Hands-on experience to "mud" a traditional Choctaw winter homeChoctaw Nation Photo

Hands-on experience to "mud" a traditional Choctaw winter home

Choctaw ancestors’ winter preparation is a blueprint for today

Published February 16, 2024

By Chief Gary Batton

The winter of 2024 is shaping up to be wet, cold, and even dangerous for travel on some of the most extreme of bad-weather days. Since the Christmas season, the Choctaw Nation has closed its administrative offices twice due to icy conditions. The difficult weather conditions have also led to water outages due to frost cracking water pipes in various locations in the reservation – a Yakoke Chito to maintenance crews working in difficult conditions to restore freshwater service. And thanks also to the great preparation, readiness, and support provided by our Office of Emergency Management and Department of Public Safety before, during and after the storms on behalf of our tribal members dealing with the challenges that a winter storm can deliver.

The winter weather conditions caused many across the reservation to hunker down in their warm homes with trips to a Choctaw Country Market or Travel Plaza ahead of the storm to stock food and nest away from the low temperatures and howling winds.

In the ‘more things change, the more they stay the same,’ category, the need to plan and prep for a winter storm is a long-standing tradition in the Choctaw Nation. For instance, the Choctaw Cultural Center recently offered the public an opportunity to “mud” a traditional Choctaw winter home. Early-day Choctaws gathered mud and water from nearby rivers and creeks and used hay or grass to make sticky clay. The clay was used as insulation against natural elements. Much like homeowners of today prepare their homes for winter by checking their door seals and windows to keep out the winter chill.

As the frost set in, our Choctaw ancestors stockpiled food from gardens. The vegetables were dried, stored, or cooked to last through the winter months. Some of the vegetables were incorporated into breads to help with food preservation.

In late December and early January, our ancestors dug sassafras, witch hazel, buckeye and snake root for medicines and teas, and puccoon, walnut, maple, native indigo and poke roots for dyes.

By late January, the ancient Choctaw tribe’s supply of breads, dried meats, nuts, potatoes, pumpkin, and corn stored against the winter was running low. Game sought by the Choctaw hunters were in hibernation or had drawn back so deeply into the swamps that they were hard to find and kill.

By February, there was a meager amount of food left to sustain the hunters who sought meat for the tribe. This was Chafo Chito or “big famine” time. Meals were less regular until the land began to turn green. The women of the family could pick fresh greens such as poke salet, sour dock, lambs’ quarter, sheep shank and wild onions, and game began to become more plentiful.

A typical Choctaw winter is very much like we prepare today for the cold. We stockpile food, prepare our homes, and make sure our supplies will get us through a winter emergency. If you follow in the steps our Choctaw ancestors laid out for us, the winter months become bearable until the sun creates new life.

Fortunately, for the Choctaw Nation harsh winters don’t happen very often, but as a nation we are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us. We are a tribe that takes care of each other. A sovereign nation that forges our own path of self-empowerment taken from a blueprint laid out by our ancestors.

Yakoke and God Bless!